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A Tanzanian Tiger

Lyndall Stein
23 July 2007

by Lyndall Stein, executive director of Concern UK

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In Tanzania last week, I saw farmers - men and women, widows, some sick and old - who every day experience a life or death struggle to feed themselves and their families on pieces of land only a little bigger than a nice suburban garden. One acre or less, a handful of wooden tools, their hard work, resolute courage and burning life force is all they have. (more...)

I met Hamisa Ali Luyenda and his wife Zawadi in Arusha, a remote village in Mtwara, Southern Tanzania. He has doubled his crop yield on his half acre of sandy earth. The food security programme called Concern Tanzania has developed, with our partners and local government, new methods of cultivation and better seeds new equipment. It has brought community trainers to farm field schools to show improved ways of growing corn, sorghum, and sesame.

Hamisa has been a good student; he has a half an acre and a bit of fishing in the nearby lake. It is his total source of food and income. He was handsome, strong, confident, but like nearly all the men in the village he was relatively short: at 5ft.3in his height is the consequence of generations living on insufficient food and managing to survive on so little. The only man taller than me was Mr. Make, a government agricultural worker and a village outsider.

Hamissa has doubled his crop using the new methods: planting in rows, using better seeds and more fertilizer. It is very hard work but he is proud of his achievements, especially since it has enabled him to buy a new canoe for fishing. But Hamissa is also angry: he told us to wait as he went back to his hut only to return seconds later to throw his tools on a mat - "see, here this is what I have to work with!". And there in front of me were these medieval implements (pictured below): ‘I need new tools’ he explained, ‘then I can grow more'.

 

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He took us to visit his fields and the small lake. Fishermen were on their way back with their catch -tiny little fishes, precious protein to be eaten as soon as possible (or most likely sold so roofs can be repaired, so clothes, soap, oil and salt can be bought).

What is holding Tanzania back is only lack of resources: the government is democratic, he lives in a country without conflicts where universal and free primary education is available (the government, with help, has recently made secondary education free as well).

We in the rich world must raise our voices, as backing to the voices of Hamissa and others like him. We must shout very loud: it is obscene, unjust, and outrageous that Hamissa and Zawadi, their village and their country, do not get sufficient support to be able to grow them out of poverty. All of this can be done with more money and resources so that the people, the communities and the government can be supported in their determined efforts.

Our government, and others of the rich world must now build a new Marshall plan for Africa, so that every farm has what they need - new seeds, good tools, enough fertilizer - so that villagers can grow enough to feed their families and maintain them healthy enough so that they can study, make their own choices and maybe create a new Tanzanian ‘Tiger’ economy.

And are you wondering why we should pay? This year is the anniversary of the great struggle to end the slave trade - which built our big cities, our navy, our power and wealth.

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